A royal sporting legacy

Amid the reams of tributes published last week in the wake of the death of Prince Philip, his contribution to Britain’s sports life was notable.

Not only was he a keen and excellent sports man in his own right, his work off the field for various sporting bodies lives on and can be seen as remarkable achievements for any individual, let alone one who was the Queen’s consort for 73 years.

He was a fierce believer in what competitive sport could do for children and adults alike and he continued an incredibly active lifestyle with his carriage-driving career continuing into his 80s.

Having played sport from an early age at Gordonstoun school where he became captain of the hockey and cricket teams, he started playing polo during his time in the Navy in the late 40s and became an excellent player.  When a problematic wrist forced him to give up polo he took up carriage driving as a “geriatric sport”.

In 1964 he was elected president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and used the position to promote the sport of driving. He was involved in drafting the rules for international carriage competitions and also helped to get the first international carriage-driving competition organised at the Windsor Horse Show in 1971. 

In 1973 he decided to take up competitive four-in-hand driving himself and, by 1982, he was first in dressage in six out of six national competitions and was the overall winner at Windsor. He represented Britain at three European Championships and at six World Championships.

He was seens as an incredibly original thinker at the FEI president and he was a strong supporter of the Show Jumping World Cup which started in 1979  and driving force behind the World Equestrian Games (which combined showjumping, dressage, eventing, driving, reining, vaulting, endurance and para-equestrian). The first Games, intended as a one-off  in 1990, was so successful it has been held every four years since.

He was, no doubt, a huge factor in both his daughter Princess Anne and granddaughter Princess Zara representing Britain at equestrianism at the Olympics. 

The Duke also loved watching the cricket and, speaking at the weekend, former Prime Minister John Major fondly recounted sitting next to him at Test matches, where they spoke little and only about the cricket that was going on in front of them. The Duke became MCC president in 1949, when he immediately offered 26 honorary memberships to professionals, taking the first step towards equality between amateurs and professionals. He took on a second term at the MCC  in 1975 and also was elected a Lord’s Taverners patron and “honorary 12th man”.

Another sporting interest was sailing and he became admiral of the Royal Yacht Squadron. From 1962 to 1968, he was also commodore for the RYS. 

In 1951, the year before he became Consort, he also became the President of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, a post he held until retiring in 2009. It was a role he dedicated much of his career to, helping the body, which included the FA among its members, deliver the very best in sports for the public.

His passion for activity and what it can do for peoples’ physical and mental well-being also led to the creation of the much celebrated Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme which lives on today giving millions of teenagers opportunities to get active and connect. His sporting legacy is assured. 


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